Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery

The piece for discussion this week (actually, it should have been last week, but I got caught behind a couple of different eight balls) is Vincente Diaz’s “Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery“. It’s a short piece with a few flaws — it lacks the informality and wit of Diaz’s other work, and feels at times one revision away from being really polished. But overall it is accessible, short, and a great window into a wider scholarly project that is happening in a lot of places, and in many ways similar to HAU’s. So perhaps a bit of background is in order.

Since the rise of the movement for indigenous rights a half-century ago, many indigenous activists and scholars have worked within a paradigm defined in large part by nationalism and primordialism. Indigenous claims to justice are rooted to primordial autocthony for several reasons: an interest in revitalizing indigenous lifeways; the political efficacy of primordiality in public debate; and legal frameworks which require proof of primordiality.

It’s a wide and broad field, but its fair to say that there is a lot of disenchantment setting in: it makes cultural innovation (which is healthy and necessary) look like deculturation, it overlooks the role of legal regimes in eliciting the ‘ancient’ land tenure and kinship systems they use to make native title claims, and some indigenous scholars find the western national form a limiting and constrictive way of organizing their communities.

Nowhere is this more a problem than the Pacific, where long-standing tropes of isolated islands, missionized natives, and dying cultures have made finding positive self-understanding elusive.

Voyaging and Recovery

I think it’s in this light that Diaz takes us the task of thinking through voyaging. Pacific navigation has had a renaissance — people have sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti, and practically everywhere else (google it if you’re not familiar with this stuff, since it’s totally incredible). Instead of rolling this activity into a politics of patrimony and primordiality, Diaz seems to be saying, what if we used it as the raw material for a project of modernist, indigenous self-forging?

The key here is Diaz’s absolutely lovely inversion of traditional tropes about Pacific culture: for him, the heart and soul of Pacific culture is not the island, it’s the canoe: the expansive impulse of travel and innovation. It’s a wonderfully playful reversal.

By putting the canoe rather than the island front and center, Diaz is doing more than invoking, dude-like, the truism that culture is “about the journey, not the destination”. Once you catch the wave of this metaphorical reversal you can ride it for quite some time.

I think this is what he is trying to do in his discussion of etak. What sort of analytic horizons open up if we feel free to play with the concepts we’ve inherited? Maybe islands ‘move’ in the sense that their populations live in diaspora – so what happens if we make that circulation central to our understanding of island cultures rather than peripheral to authentic ‘life in the village’? And if this riffing on the concept insists that we find examples of islands literally moving then suddenly climate change (descending beneath the waves), mining (disassembling islands) and volcanoes and lava (volcanic growth). It’s not like people haven’t thought about these things before, but it puts the spotlight on them in a new way, enables novel configurations, and justifies scholarly focus in new moral terms.

Wisdom and Postmodernism

One of the things I like most about Diaz’s project is the way that it connects with something that anthropologists have often felt but rarely expressed — that fieldwork changes one in a way, leading not just to data, but to a fuller self and even a sort of wisdom about the contours that life can take. In the context of indigenous anthropology, I see scholars like Diaz actively using this insight and yoking it to an explicit project of — as they put it — (re)membering.

I do have one gripe with this approach, however, which is the debt that it owe to postmodernism. Much of the work done by scholars like Diaz emerges out of Santa Cruz’s History of Consciousness program and James Clifford. This upsets me a great deal because I wish that my brand of anthropology had been responsible for authors of this calibre. In the 80s authors like Marshall Sahlins and Greg Dening did a great job encouraging major Pacific scholars like Epeli Hau’ofa (Dening kept on encouraging right until the end, in fact). But somehow their message of the vitality of indigenous culture, the importance of innovation, the empowering nature of mixing orthodox Western and Pacific modes of knowing somehow burned itself, perhaps in the culture wars of the 90s? At any rate, we are left in a situation where there isn’t a base of collegiality and friendship to reconnect mainstream anthropology and Native cultural studies.

Even worse, Clifford’s work on indigenous articulation, so influential to Diaz, reads to me as a derivative, less well-written version of Sahlins’s article “Good Bye To Tristes Tropes”, which was published eight years earlier. How is it that Clifford gets credit for coming up with the ideas that have influenced Diaz? I want to blame postmodernism for denouncing a straw man version of anthropology while quietly poaching our insights. But on reflection I think we have not done enough to welcome the scholarly projects of Native scholars into our intellectual conversations.

This is one reason why I wanted to read the Diaz right after the introduction to HAU — I see strong overlap between the two projects. Both seek to mine concepts for new meaning, using them to stretch existing understandings. Both seek these concepts in what the layperson would consider ‘exotic’ cultures. Both are focused on ethnography, but also veer off wildly in inventive new directions. Both Diaz and Wagner see their scholarship to be about remaking the subjectivity of the scholar — in Wagner’s case this is almost a sort of gnostic mysticism.

But Diaz’s project is also so clearly one which is totally uninterested in ‘exoticism’ — it is about cultural heritage and finding the way in which one’s own personality has been shaped by tradition, and the using that understanding to shape the future of tradition. It would be like the editorial board of HAU immersing themselves deeply in Catholic theology in order to make a New Anthropological Humanism featuring reworked Patristic philosophy and huge, postmodern mitres ostentatiously worn in the lobbies of academic conferences as signs of connection with one’s cultural past. In this respect HAU, which claims not to be but I suspect paradigmatically rooted in the exotic, and Diaz, who is self-consciously decolonizing himself of unsavory foreign powers, differ.

My dream AAA panel is a huge, star-studded affair of in which we get Native Cultural Studies and Ethnographic Theory together to forge anthropology’s future. But sadly, I think the personal differences between the people involved would prevent the intellectual commonalities from emerging.

Further Reading

One thing is for sure: Pacific studies has done a killer job making their work available open access — mostly because the editors of The Contemporary Pacific have made sure their journal is the home of so much energy surrounding these issues, and that it is free to download. This includes Hau’ofa’s seminal essay Our Sea of Islands and Diaz and Kauanui’s programmatic introduction to a special number of that journal entitled Native Pacific Cultural Studies On The Edge. There is a lot more as well if you just google around.


I am a bit late getting this out, but I will try to follow the usual schedule of letting it run until Wednesday, when I’ll post a new reading. As always, try to be polite and collegial to the authors featured in the reading circle.

I want to say more but I’ve been putting off posting this long enough, so I’ll hit ‘publish’ and see what happens — I hope we have a good discussion, everyone!


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

19 thoughts on “Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery

  1. “from the vantage point of etak and pookof, we might say that 1) islands are mobile, 2) that they expand and contract, and 3) that their coordinates in time and space are emplotted via the farthest reaches of their indigenous creatures”

    I find these three points interesting and somewhat convincing. For this reason I genuinely enjoyed this paper. However, I felt at many points in the article that the author overreached, attempting to give these ideas resonances that did not seem to be supported by the evidence presented in the article. For instance:

    “islands are moving, tectonically and culturally. They also move as phosphate, as the Teaiwa sisters (T. Teaiwa 1997 and K. Teaiwa 2005) have reminded us in their work on the routes and roots of Banaban birdshit and Banaban peoplehood respectively. Atomically, the islands have been and continue to be obliterated, hurled skywards into the stratosphere through US (and French) nuclear testing, or inwards and outwards in under water tidal wave”

    I understand this as metaphor, and I could see it working as metaphor in literature, but I did not see any discussion in the paper which would convince me that anyone other than the author (and, perhaps, the Teaiwa sisters) thinks about islands in this way. For one thing, these concepts seem to be very particular to navigational practices which predate nuclear testing, and I’m not clear how much resonance they have for contemporary island residents who no longer navigate in this way?

    It may be that contemporary Pacific Islanders still find these concepts important for navigating, or even if they don’t, they still find the concepts of etak and pookof to be deeply meaningful in how they experience the environment and how they think about islands, but it seemed to me more of an argument that people *should* think in these terms (and perhaps once did) than a convincing case that they actually do think in these terms today.

  2. I also enjoyed this paper, and feel it is not quite so self-indulgent as it might have been, given the dangers in generating analytical metaphors from traditional knowledge practices. While I empathise with Kerim’s questions about how relevant some of these practices and spatiotemporal ideas may actually be to contemporary Pacific peoples, I found Diaz’s paper resonates on various levels with my experience of similar subjects, specifically in relation to environmental knowledge in Island Melanesia. I’ll cite only two which I think may be useful.

    In respect of ‘moving islands’ metaphor, I think it is healthy to test Diaz’s analytical play on other Oceanic systems. In my case, I found that it is reflected in the quite explicit ni-Vanuatu imagery of moving islands, reefs, stones which emerge as a constant of a great deal of narratives dealing with the physical and social world – both mythical and not-so-mythical.

    It seems indispensable here to bring up the late Joël Bonnemaison’s own well-known metaphor of the tree and the canoe in respect to the mobility and groundedness constitutive of Melanesian senses of belonging – a metaphor which he importantly arrived at through Tannese, and other ni-Van, expressions of ‘geographical identity’. Indeed, I do wonder to what degree might Diaz’s take on etak not owe something to Bonnemaison’s earlier work?

    As to the current relevance of some of these ideas, I think that Pacific peoples are probably quite comfortable with models that approach their senses of self, community and cultural creativity in terms of extensions (in time and space) and grounded points ‘in a moving pattern of waves’ (to paraphrase Bonnemaison).

    Turning to the more empirically-grounded aspects of moving islands, it is quite appropriate to mention, as Rex does, climate change, volcanic and tectonic shifts. As I argue in a recent text, the process of rising sea levels and coastal transformations, or out and out island obliteration/creation, has long been a part of quotidian experience in the Melanesian world (in the last decade alone the Torres Islands, where I work, have been shoved up and down by at least 1.6 metres as a result of powerful earthquakes, with all that this entailed in terms of coastal hydrodynamics; but there are many more regional examples, the Kuwae eruption being a prominent one).

    I am always cautious about getting caught up in the romance of analytical metaphors that are based on seemingly exotic or largely forgotten knowledge practices, but I do think Diaz’s piece offers a refreshing take on the chronotopes of Pacific indigeneity, which, in the case of voyaging, are often simply interpreted, or worse, presented (I am thinking here of Nainoa Thompson’s exhibitionistic ego re Hokule’a), as a straightforward revival of ‘heroic’ traditions.

    The forms of time and space which underlie these cultural revivals can and should be put to work within our intellectual conversations. Kudos to Rex for bringing this to our attention.

  3. I agree with Saul and Kerim. When I was in miloli’i, the last fishing village on Hawai’i, I saw that they couldn’t care less about Hokulea and similar ventures. They were islanders, through and through. 

    That being said. They are being pushed away from their own lands, by Americans and philippinos. But, the ones who care about this are the small percent that are part of the Hawaiian rights movement. The population at large doesn’t seem to be involved in any such conflict. 

    Compare Islamists (who scream and debate in media) with Muslims (who go on living their lives). It’s like a small portion is allowed to speak for the entire group, even though they are pragmatically two different groups.

    So I’m sure the metaphor of kayaks is true for some, but definitely not all. 

    A similar metaphor I’ve heard is that of a bird. The existential being of a refugee is like that of a bird. It’s always on the move. It might stop to perch, but not to settle. It’s always heading somewhere. (IIRC, this metaphor is attributed to anthropologist Michael Jackson, but I could be wrong). 

  4. Thanks for these comments all. Maybe we could let the discussion run a little more on this post since the long week-end and late posting means it didn’t quite get the attention it deserved. I don’t know — maybe instead of posting the reading ahead of time I should just post what the reading is and my review and let people go at it? I’m not sure how best to schedule these.

    I find it ironic (or perhaps predictable?) that one of the criticism of Diaz mentioned here is that it is removed from the life of nonacademic Pacific Islanders, since this is a constant preoccupation of haole anthropologists. The danger of these critiques is that they could turn into the criticisms made decades ago of Oceanic elites and intellectuals by anthropologists: to wit, that they 1) had lost their culture by becoming educated and 2) were cynically manipulating custom discourse to gain political advantage.

    As a haole anthropologist, I regularly take ideas from my everyday lifeworld, transform them, and use them in obscure and erudite ways that few understand. I’m not sure what’s wrong with that — developing these special analytic skills are why people go to college, right? If this is something that also happens in Guam or Kiribabati then what’s the problem?

    I also thank the commentors who mention how islands seem to move to people who live on them. But even if this were not the case, I don’t think Diaz is claiming that his eccentric reading of navigation concepts is anything but that — an innovative and unconventional one. Whether it will be widely shared remains to be seen. To the extent that anthropologist are like creative artists, we should expect our work to be a source of novelty (or rather, a novel transformation of what has come before) which, we hope, ‘adds value’ to the lives of our readers and respondents.

  5. There is nothing inherently wrong with taking ideas from an everyday life world and using them in obscure and erudite ways. But the question remains on the reader’s side, how to interpret, explain or critique them.

    There is nothing unusual about nativist intellectuals espousing their own views of what it means to be an X (where X may be Chinese, Japanese, American, Latino, Serb, whatever). It may still seem a bit odd for anthropologists to uncritically swallow and endorse those views because the intellectual in question is a “native.”

    One can almost always find other natives with different views. The interesting problem is to understand what their differences entail and how their entailments evolve over time in different geographical, social or temporal settings.

    The information that views expressed about “our=X” identity are shared only by a small minority of intellectuals doesn’t mean that the intellectuals’ views should be dismissed out of hand. It does suggest that their views should be examined skeptically as well as respectfully.

  6. Putting aside the question of whether or not the metaphor of shifting islands is a meaningful way to discuss contemporary indigenous subjectivities, I want to share a wonderful film by a Taiwanese filmmaker about the subject of shifting islands. It appeared in this year’s Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival. It was called Taivalu and is about a Taiwanese director’s voyage to Tuvalu. It is charming and funny and would make a great companion to this paper for anyone wanting to use it in the classroom. You can see a trailer here:


  7. Now that you’ve decided to be respectful John, can articulate clearly and fairly why you are skeptical of the piece?

  8. @Rex

    To me it now seems useful to consider the paper in light of three questions: (1) Is it a good paper? (2) Is it a good example of indigenous scholarship? And (3) is it part of an interesting conversation?

    I see a fair amount of agreement between us that this is not a great paper. It is, like a lot of work that makes it into academic journals these days, derivative, thin and slipshod. It spends too much time kowtowing to the “theory” and theorist it evokes, too little on what the native collaborators, those teachers who, we are told, know all sorts of interesting stuff, have to say. OK, these are all common flaws. In other contexts, they would make this paper scan, file, and forget—nothing memorable here.

    Turning, however, to the second question. If this is a good example of indigenous scholarship then, given the flaws just described, indigenous scholarship sucks. Encountered just after reading Graeber’s piece on the Shilluk in HAU, it’s like seeing the junior varsity try to take on the Chicago Bulls at the height of Michael Jordan’s career. This is the impression that drove my earlier comments. I think it’s a great idea to get indigenous scholars more involved in anthropology. But if this is supposed to be a great example…Ouch.

    The good news is that, thanks to Rex and Salul, I can see that this paper is, indeed, part of an interesting conversation. I turn now to Rex’s remark,

    “The key here is Diaz’s absolutely lovely inversion of traditional tropes about Pacific culture: for him, the heart and soul of Pacific culture is not the island, it’s the canoe: the expansive impulse of travel and innovation. It’s a wonderfully playful reversal.”

    What strikes me here, and do correct me if I’m wrong, is where the reversal winds up, in a story that seems terribly familiar. Life is a journey, not a place. It’s not the goal, it’s how you get there. Once there were men in little ships who braved a vast ocean to discover unknown lands. Then there were pioneers, who crossed a continent to settle in places far from where they began, and immigrants who risked everything to travel to a New World. I’ve been hearing these memes all my life.

    So, what’s going on here. The ships are smaller; they are only canoes. The ocean is bigger. Situational awareness tuned to nature replaces the sextant and Ptolemaic star maps. It’s the same story, only bigger, cooler, Thor Heyerdahl instead of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

    I’ll stop here and wait to see what others make of this.

  9. John,
    If I wanted to regurgitate the thing about the journey being all that its about, I’d have said that. Clearly, you don’t understand the article. As per your very first entry response to my article, its your problem, not mine, that I don’t measure up to what you expect of Native Anthropologists (or of Natives, or of scholars, for that matter). I’ve no stakes, no desire, to be an anthropologist, even a Native one, whatever that is. And to describe my work as “white minstrelsy” is pretty shameful and telling about you (certainly it shows your arrogance and ignorance).

    Alex, there’s a huge gulf between Clifford and Sahlins, both of whom I know, admire, and have studied. Clifford supervised my dissertation, and I did a semester’s directed reading on Sahlins with David Schneider in 1987. There is also a gulf between Clifford and myself, though i studied under him, and try to acknowledge and owe up to what I learned from him. But I wouldn’t say that my work is simply influenced by Indigenous Articulations, which he produced long after I left. Furthermore, in it, and other essays where he makes similar kinds of arguments with respect to indigeneity as rooted and routed, he has also made it a point to acknowledge the influences of his former students from the Pacific (there are nearly a dozen) on his thinking. You didn’t label my work “derivative” and “white minstrelsy” like John did, but you come dangerously close to disavowing the specificities of my own work, certainly my intellectual and political history in academia, when you all but peg me as some unwitting recipient of postmodernism. Your anxiety about postmodernism’s antics on anthropology, like John’s expectations of and for Native Anthropologists, are just not my concern or worry. And by the way, even if it was the case that my essay is somehow misguided by postmodernism, that doesn’t automatically make the essay flawed, just different.

    Lastly, i want to observe, from first hand experience, that part of the reason why there is little dialogue between Native Pacific scholars, including a good number of Native Pacific Islander anthropologists, and the discipline, is racist and ignorant expectations of and claims about Native scholars. And loads of disrespectful, non-human, behavior. I’m sure Native scholars are guilty of getting things wrong too, and acting errantly, but we just don’t come anywhere close to the level of authority and power that the rest of you have in academia. Dismissive and ignorant comments like I’m reading above can de-legitimize Native scholars like myself so much easier than anything we might say or write about non-Native scholars. These, fortunately, are not reasons enough to make us leave academia the way there is a record of native anthropologists leaving the discipline.

  10. @Vincent

    Glad to meet you at last. Not so happy to see you playing the “That’s racist” and “authority and power” cards — both too often used as excuses for shoddy scholarship.

    As I wrote to Rex, on reflection I see three issues here. First, is the paper a good paper? My answer is “no” and I will shortly explain that judgment in more detail. Here I will only say that the reasons have nothing to do with your being a Native scholar. Second, if the paper is not a very good paper does it make a good example of Native scholarship? I certainly hope not, for if it were seen as the best we can expect from Native scholarship, that would be most unfortunate. Third, is the paper, whatever it’s merits or demerits, part of an interesting conversation? Rex — unfortunately not the paper itself — persuaded me that the answer is “Yes.”

    Let us return, then, to the question, is the paper a good paper? In my judgment, no. To me it seems shallow and derivative. First, that you found the right whales where your teachers said you would find them is a good story. Your use of the native term for the whales is, without further explanation, a storyteller’s trick. The case would be very different if the native term is central to a cosmology that is strikingly different in some important respect and the difference were examined more closely. In my particular case, that particular trick misfired. It made me wonder how different what you experienced was from what I myself experience, albeit on a smaller scale, when I go fishing with my younger brother. Dan has spent several decades deeply involved in both sport and commercial fishing in Chesapeake Bay. It is now a familiar experience to see him check the tide and the weather and say something along the lines of “The rockfish will be biting off York Point today,” and then go catch a lot of fish. Is what your teachers do or how they think about the sea radically different from the way in which Dan thinks about the Bay? If so, that would be very interesting, indeed. But the evidence you offer is insufficient to confirm that conclusion.

    Then, in one of the opening paragraphs there was a straight steal from Clifford’s “Routes and Roots.” I may have his title backwards, but in any case the absence of a citation for a key idea in the argument you are making struck a sour note with me. It seemed both obsequious and sneaky. I could be wrong, but, yes, it put me off and spoiled my reading of the rest of the essay.

    The point I want to underline is that, right or wrong, these judgments have nothing to do with your being a Native scholar. The issue of Native scholarship arises for me only in relation to the second question: Is this a good example of Native scholarship? Logically speaking, if it isn’t a good example of scholarship in the first place, the answer has to be no.

    Finally, then, a word about the observations in my last reply to Rex. Do I think that making the canoe instead of the islands the key symbol of a Pan-Pacific Native identity is a bad idea? Not at all. If it were my goal to find an idea that is big enough for that purpose, lends itself to development in all sorts of interesting directions, and, at least to me, works on an emotional level, it is hard for me to think of a better one. The irony is, of course, that it feels right to me because I’ve been hearing similar stories all my life. I grew up by the sea. I was reading about Columbus and Cabot, Magellan and Vasco de Gama when I was in primary school. People risking their lives in small ships to discover, explore, and then settle new places. That’s part of my heritage, too. If I recall Thor Heyerdal, it isn’t to belittle the accomplishments of those who settled the Pacific. To me it evokes the excitement I felt as a kid reading about him. Which leads to that last ironic reflection. You are not a Native scholar for whom defeat and subjection are central to the way you now feel about your tradition. You can write with pride about a past in which those from other times and places will also see great things. Do tell us more about it.

  11. Vince,

    Thanks for showing up — I’m sorry I didn’t invite you directly. Since you know more about this than I do, can you explain to me what specifically the gulf between Sahlins’s work and Clifford’s work is? And how your work differs from Clifford’s? As you say, I don’t believe that you are derivative but it would be interesting — as someone who wasn’t there — to hear more about how your work influenced and influences his.

  12. Rex, I am sending to your professional address a longer reply. I’m not appreciating, to say the least, how my essay is being framed in this thread. Part of the problem is that this thread, in my opinion, is still fundamentally shaped by an earlier thread on my essay, and I now can’t find that original thread. That original thread not only had some pretty despicable things on it, and these have not been called out effectively enough to give the essay a fair read; worse, comments and claims on that thread continue to shape this one. I tried to find that original thread and can’t find it. Was it purged? If so, why? Don’t you think that the reader coming into this thread should know what is framing it?

  13. Rex, I found that earlier thread under “Reading Circle,” but am still thinking that a reader coming into this present thread will not get the initial and framing effect that is still shaping the comments.

    I ask others to forgive the tone of my own comments and even moreso forgive me if my anger blinds me from acknowledging other points of the fuller discussion. I’m still reeling over the description of my essay as cargo cultish, as “minstrelsy” (eg “me too can write like white man.” [please, you sound really stupid in how you are playing native]) and as lacking scholarly value. But I guess these are my own hangups.

    A final, belated, note to the readers: thank you for taking the time to read the essay and for giving comments.

    Thank you Rex, especially, for the effort to contextualize, and the nudge toward dialogue. The gulf between Sahlins and Clifford for me in large part relates to the question of openings and closings that questions of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity have for natives dealing with colonialism and postcolonial forms of knowledge production. The disciplines and interdisciplines open and close opportunities for dialogue with native scholars in different ways, beginning, interestingly enough, on how all of the above define interdisciplinary work and the question of just how to assess the work. In writing for, and from, more than one discipline in relation to native struggles for political and cultural survival, for example, the challenges have been immense, rife with lots of failure but also success. Often enough, for example, what one readership finds problematic another finds wonderful. Success has been when an essay, or even a claim, gets universal acknowledgement; success, when nothing connects with anybody. And so, I actually value critical feedback from members of the disciplines as well as from the other communities. Disrespectful dismissals piss me off. And life in white academia has been a big challenge in anger management.

  14. clarification: I am not attributing the charge of minstrelsy to Rex; and the word “success” in line 4 from the bottom should be “failure.” Freudian slip? probably not.

  15. The “whiteface minstrel show” and “cargo-cult writing” were both nasty and ever the top. No apology will be adequate. You have one anyway. For what it is worth, I also mean what said at the end of my last message. I would very much like to learn more about what you have learned about navigating the Pacfic—and about how your project of discovering/constructing a pan-Pacific islander identity is developing.

  16. A former student just sent me a link to this thread.

    Wow. What a sad moment for Pacific Anthropology.

    I’ve known Vince for 15 years, have taught with him, and have learned a ton from him in person and his written work.

    Can’t say much about what there is to learn from the snotty, racist drivel on this thread.

    You should be ashamed of yourselves and the company you keep (this guy is apparently one of your regulars).

    And John: you were the guy who played the race card; Vince was just calling you on it.

    Stuart Kirsch

  17. I have to admit that I am at a loss to think about how best to find some sort of redeeming thread or value in this thread. I had a sense when I posted this reading that it would involve bringing together some voices that were not usually in dialogue with each other, but the reaction here has been incredibly disappointing. I’m happy to take the blame for not being more active in the comments for steering this towards a more productive direction rather than hoping that by ‘not feeding the trolls’ the situation would naturally right itself. Some of the structural problems — having one thread, not two, etc. will help solve some of these problems (this is something I’ve already implemented).

    A lot of what happened is the result of longstanding and deep-seated issues about colonialism and how it works in and through the academy and the amount of bs that people like Vince have to take when interacting with anthropologists (I’m happy to admit that I’m part of the problem here).

    But mostly it just has to do with plain old bad behavior. Basics of courtesy and respect are hard to find on the Internet, I know, but I refuse to let the medium take the blame for the message here. What part of “try to be polite and collegial to the authors featured in the reading circle” was hard to understand? In the future, I’ll be more forthcoming about making sure that people behave in this way.

    This issue is not going to go away, since we will be reading many more living-and-breathing authors in the future. I’m hoping — nay, insisting — that this will be the start of the process of learning to engage with them collegially.

  18. @Rex

    Collegiality is a good thing. Intemperate language can foul it. Point taken. I’ve apologized. I can’t help remembering, though, the words of a very wise woman, Alice Buzzarte. In 1983, when I was hired by the Japanese ad agency where I spent much of my career, Alice, who was then the dean of foreign cpoywriters in Japan, took me aside and said, “John, to succeed in our business you will need to develop a thick skin. You have to realize that at least three out of four of your brilliant ideas are going straight into the trashcan.” She was right.

    Now, I’ve not only apologized. I’ve raised some serious questions about the nature of Pacfic Islander cosmology and the nature of the skills deployed by traditional navigators. Are they significantly different from those deployed by, just in one example, my brother fishing Chesapeake bay or other rule of thumb navigators sailing in familiar waters? The scale of the Pacific suggests that they might be.

    I think it would be a shame to abandon this conversation because one of us, me,has been a asshole. People are feeling angry and hurt. But if we let their anger and hurt forever separate us, what does this say about the future of an enterprise whose rationale is building bridges of understanding between radically or, perhaps, not so radically, different perspectives?

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